Photo By Hillary Ehlen
I did not grow up a huge fan of North Dakota State athletics. As a kid, I was more enamored with the results of the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Timberwolves. To be truthful, the only Bison team I ever paid attention to in my formative years was the men’s basketball team that made it to the NCAA Tournament in 2008-09.
I had little to no knowledge of North Dakota State’s football program, it’s tradition and history. However, my father, being an NDSU alum was glued to the television each Saturday to watch the Bison. Me? Not so much.
So when he took me to my first Bison game on November 12, 2011 (12 days before I turned 18) against Youngstown State, I was less than impressed. We made the drive from Bismarck that Saturday morning, only to watch the Penguins beat the Bison 27-24. At the time, it snapped an eight-game home win streak for NDSU. It was also NDSU’s lone loss in what was eventually a national title season.
I left that game wondering what the hell was so great about the Bison? I mean, they lost, to a team who is nicknamed the Penguins? To my uneducated sports mind (at the time), that was laughable. It also made me question why my dad was obsessed with Bison football.
Some three years later, I remember watching the 2013 national title game from a hospital room in Bismarck. Admittedly, it was the first national championship game I watched at that point. My dad was laying in the hospital bed that day, unable to talk or cheer, he was just watching. He had been in that bed since New Year’s Day and had been sleeping in hospital beds for the past few months (outside of a short stint at home).
North Dakota State beat Towson 35-7 in that game to win their third consecutive national title. Oddly enough, that 15-0 Bison team was perhaps the greatest in school history. Again, it was cool that North Dakota was on the map on the national stage, but I still didn’t understand the magnitude of it or how impressive three straight titles were.
Three days later, my dad passed away. I always like to think the Bison won that January 4 game for him.
I reflect on those two moments often. Especially since I get to cover these programs and student-athletes each day as a career. I still do not consider myself a fan, that’s not my job, but I often think there was a time where I had no idea what was going on at NDSU. Now, I understand why my dad was all eyes and ears when the Bison took the field each Saturday. I get it.
If my dad were still around today, I don’t think he would be able to comprehend that I follow this team for a living. Let alone that I’ve been able to cover conference tournaments, national championships and the NCAA Tournament (we use to watch it all day in March). Sometimes, I cannot comprehend it either.
Every Saturday, I look up at the Fargodome lights during a game from the press box and lose myself in memories. I recall sitting behind the endzone with my dad some eight years ago and all the joy it brought him when those lights went out and Thunderstruck played.
I get choked up recalling those things, knowing that I cover something he was passionate about his whole life. I live out his dreams. All the athletes, coaches and programs I cover for this job pale in comparison to that.
That is why this all matters to me…